Justin Turner’s 3-run home run set tone for Dodgers in NLDS
Via Los Angeles Daily News
The Dodgers put Arizona Diamondbacks starter Taijuan Walker on the ropes early in the first inning of Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday. When Justin Turner crushed Walker’s 18th pitch of the game for a three-run home run, the tone was set.
The Dodgers ultimately knocked out Walker after one inning. Turner wasn’t done driving in runs, and the Dodgers continued to pile on before the night was over.
Turner went 3 for 4 and drove in five of the Dodgers’ runs in a 9-5 victory. His five RBI tied a franchise record, equaled only by Pedro Guerrero in the 1981 World Series and Davey Lopes in the 1978 World Series.
Chris Taylor and Corey Seager “did a great job getting on base, setting the table, putting their pitchers with their back against the wall,” Turner said. “When they get in those situations and they’ve got to make pitches, you just try not to do too much, get a good pitch. Luckily tonight I didn’t miss it.”
For Turner, the veteran third baseman, a clutch postseason performance was nothing new. He began the game with a .357 batting average in 18 career postseason games. His .444 batting average in the NLDS was the highest among all players with at least 30 career at-bats. The division series has been played on an annual basis since 1995.
Now, in 16 postseason starts as a Dodger, Turner has a .397 batting average and a .507 on-base percentage. He has hits in all but three of those games.
“I think that it’s innate,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Turner’s postseason poise. “It can be learned, I guess, through experience, but JT just has that pulse for that big moment and to not do too much. When the pitcher makes a mistake, he just has a way to capitalize and doesn’t go out of the strike zone. He just has a way with that big moment.”
In the first inning, Turner fouled off the first two pitches he saw from Walker, then took a couple pitches out of the strike zone to even the count at 2-and-2.
When Walker piped a 93-mph fastball over the plate, Turner drove the ball 424 feet into the left-field bleachers. That gave the Dodgers a 3-0 lead and continued a pattern in the regular season that saw Turner led all of MLB with a .279 batting average with two strikes.
The Dodgers batted around in the first inning. In the second inning, Turner drew a walk and challenged catcher Jeff Mathis by stealing second base with two outs. Mathis’ throw was short of the bag and skipped into center field, allowing Turner to take third.
In the fourth inning – again, with two strikes – Turner took advantage of a first-and-third, one-out situation by hitting an RBI single against Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Godley. That kept alive a rally that extended the Dodgers’ lead from 4-1 to 7-1.
Finally, Turner gave the Dodgers an insurance run in the eighth inning by singling the opposite way through a drawn-in infield. Seager scored from third base, and the Dodgers led, 9-4.
Arizona manager Torey Lovullo has seen his team come back from early deficits before. He said the Dodgers’ ability to pile on after Turner’s home run was instrumental in knocking out Walker. Being able to drive in two more runs after his first-inning homer only added to Turner’s legend.
“He’s just got an easy approach,” Lovullo said of Turner. “He’s never off-balance. Rarely fooled. To me it looks like he’s taking batting practice. There’s no hustle to his swing. I think every good hitter aspires to have that same approach and to have it translate the way he does.”
A vocal leader in the clubhouse, Turner led by example during the Dodgers’ worst stretch of the season. In the midst of the team’s 1-16 slump spanning August and September, Turner posted a .291/.371/.527 slash line. He finished the season with a .322 batting average, third in the National League.
Friday, Turner also started a key double play in the sixth inning on a Paul Goldschmidt ground ball. The play loomed large when the next batter, J.D. Martinez, hit a home run against Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw to bring Arizona within 7-2.
After taking batting practice, the Dodgers held a team meeting on Thursday night on the pitcher’s mound at Dodger Stadium. Roberts got the talk rolling, then ceded the space to his players. Turner was one of five veterans who spoke.
“I basically just said ‘you know, this is what we’ve been waiting for all year. I’m in the playoffs. Your numbers, our numbers individually don’t matter. It’s about doing whatever it takes to win a ballgame. If you make an out, whatever happens, it doesn’t matter. Find a way to pick up the next guy, the next guy. Find a way to get it done.
“Also, just to embrace it. Be in the moment.”
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